First-Year Writing: Women and Madness in Literature

This was the first class I designed and taught as instructor of record. I learned the importance of varying in-class activities, as well as the importance of soliciting regular, anonymous feedback from students.

Course Description: The idea of the “crazy woman” permeates television, movies, literature, and everyday life. In the past, doctors even attributed a number of “hysteria” symptoms (anxiety, insomnia, fainting, sexually “forward” behavior) explicitly to women’s biology. In this course, we will look at literary texts that show how social and political forces have also shaped the social makeup of women’s “madness.” Some questions we will explore together include: Who benefits from portraying women as mad? To what extent is “madness” purely a result of the mind’s function, and to what extent is it imposed by characters’ environments? Do we see this phenomenon in fiction and nonfiction today? Key readings include The Awakening (Kate Chopin), “The Yellow Wallpaper” (Charlotte Perkins Gilman), and Wide Sargasso Sea (Jean Rhys).